Nokia N800

May 29 2007


I’ve never owned a laptop and have wanted one for a long time. The portability and convenience is second to none. And with the increasing presence of public Wi-Fi connections you are no longer limited to internet access at home. My problem was I never seemed to get around to buying one. Some other piece of electronics catches my attention and I soon forget about a laptop.

Several weeks ago I visited some relatives so I was away from my desktop for some time. Although they had a computer with internet access I didn’t feel right to hug the computer all for myself given that I do spend a lot of time on the computer doing odd things. If I was to finally get a laptop it was then and there. But with the limited budget I had I was doubtful I could even find one at the right price. I did a search and found a few $400 laptops, but what really caught my attention was the Nokia N800 internet tablet for $230, an update to the Nokia N770 released about two years ago. It is not a laptop in the traditional sense. It looks more like a PDA super-charged. At a mere 5.7 x 2.95 x 0.5 inches and weighing 7.27 oz I was skeptical that this laptop-wannabe could actually do stuff that a laptop could do. The specifications are impressive for something this small but I was primarily interested in its internet surfing capabilities. Advertised capable of 802.11b/g connectivity, running Linux, an Opera browser supporting Adobe Flash 9, I was excited to test it out. A couple of weeks later and it was on my hands.

My first impression was that it’s a very nice looking gadget. It has a touch-sensitive 4.1 in. LCD screen at a resolution of 800x480 pixels. That’s pretty high resolution for a small screen and proves to be sufficient for most websites without excessive horizontal scrolling. It does not have a keypad but does have an on-screen keyboard. Navigation is done primarily with a stylus alongside a few buttons. I found navigating with the stylus to be straightforward. When text input is necessary the on-screen keyboard automatically pops up. I found tapping with the stylus to be sufficient but typing anything but a few words would be tedious as you can imagine. Although there is hand-writing recognition it is highly unreliable.

I connected the N800 to a Linksys WRT150N wireless router with WPA2 security without problems. The first time you turn it on a Wizard will guide you in configuring the device. I found no need to peruse the manual and felt comfortable with the device within minutes.

I was impressed. I truly didn’t believe that I could surf the net in something this tiny. Well, it does and does it well. Overall, it does an incredible job of rendering websites. The Opera web browser does supports JavaScript but I quickly ran into a problem with a website I use to check up on my stocks but thankfully a simple installation of an alternative web browser, based on Mozilla remedied it.

There is currently no Java support which is a shame. I sorely needed it for real-time streaming quotes. As an internet tablet it is reasonably fast but Flash-heavy or image-laden websites will bring the N800 to a crawl. When it reaches that point the device can become unresponsive and the browser tends to shutdown. Streaming videos can also be choppy while the video downloads. Once downloaded it plays much smoother. Video performance is resolution dependent and 400x240 seems to be optimal for the N800’s 330 MHz CPU. The 128 MB DDR RAM is adequate for running multiple programs at one time. I do wonder whether program crashes I’ve experienced was due to low memory. Unfortunately, the memory is not upgradable. To date I’ve experienced multiple program crashes and one system crash which required the removal of the battery. Hopefully, future operating system upgrades can fix this.

The fact that the N800 is based on Linux was a plus on my checklist. Being inherently open source meant anyone can write programs for it and this means unlimited potential in the number of programs that will be available to it. This is in stark contrast to other competing products where program development is limited to a select few groups or worst only to OEM. Given its growing developer community the N800 has a good future. I’m waiting to see if an alternative OS can be installed in it like a different flavor of Linux or something. Anyone interested in writing or porting programs for the N800 can head over to to get started. It is also a repository for programs available for the N800.

Preinstalled programs are email client, instant messaging, Skype, media player, image viewer, text editor, games, PDF viewer, RSS reader, etc. The more I read the specs the more it started to sound like the specs of a PC.

Other hardware features are a radio tuner that can be enabled by downloading the appropriate program and a webcam that can be used for video conferencing or as a still camera. The quality is mediocre but at least it’s there. The integrated mic was pretty good in my opinion. It’s sensitive and low noise. An included earphone/mic combo can also be plugged in for private listening. The odd thing about the earphone is that it has an inline button that I haven’t figured out what it’s for. The stereo speaker does an adequate job for its size. There is Bluetooth support to connect a Bluetooth keyboard or a cell phone to use your cellphone’s internet service. Nokia was nice enough to include an extra stylus should you decide to throw away the other one. Of course there’s a charger to keep things going. And to sheathe the N800 from dust is a soft case. Lastly, there’s a USB cable to connect to a PC for file transfer and updating the OS. USB 2.0 is supported.

Storage is on a built-in 256 MB flash memory. Part of it is already occupied by the operating system and the preinstalled programs. For additional storage there are two memory card slots supporting SD, MicroSD, MiniSD, MMC, and RS-MMC up to 8 GB each. A 128 MB MiniSD card is included which must be used with the included adapter.

Battery time is listed for 3.5 hours of continuous web surfing and 13 days of standby. I can’t vouch for the standby time but the 3.5 hours of web surfing seems right on, although I’ve never timed it officially. I’d say I recharge the device every other day when I do extensive surfing with it or watch streaming videos or internet radio.

I’ve had the N800 for about a month now. I believe I have made a great decision with the N800. For $230 nothing comes close to what you get. A similar device is the Archos 605 WiFi. Similarly priced, but the fact that it’s a closed environment means you depend on Archos for programs available for it. Given that they want you to pay for these extra programs was a real turn-off. Community support is also non-existent.

I have enjoyed using the N800 when sitting in front of a desktop was not desirable. It has proven itself to be a good web surfing device, which was my primary motive for buying one. The media capabilities is icing on the cake. Program stability is questionable but hopefully it will improve with future updates. I can’t help but feel that it needs some more RAM. Also a bigger display would be nice. The 800x480 resolution is great but on a 4 inch screen things can be a little too small especially text.